Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned right-wing voters on Wednesday that casting a ballot for another conservative party than his Likud would raise the chances of the left being able to form a government after next week’s election.
Netanyahu’s remarks came a day after three separate polls showed Likud winning 21 seats against 25 for the rival Zionist Camp. 61 seats are needed for a majority in the Knesset.
The Zionist Camp is an alliance between Labor and former justice minister Tzipi Livni’s centrist Hatnuah party. It has been neck and neck with Netanyahu’s conservatives since it was formed in December.
Right-wing and religious parties will likely win more seats than left-wing and Arab parties, however, Likud dissident Moshe Kahlon’s new centrist Kulanu party has refused to rule out backing the Zionist Camp.
Speaking to Army Radio, Labor’s Isaac Herzog said he was the only party leader “able to replace Netanyahu.”
The incumbent has emphasized security issues in the election campaign, a traditional strong suit for Likud.
In a speech to the American Congress last week, Netanyahu once again warned against the existential threat a nuclear-armed Iran would pose to the Jewish state. But the speech might have done more harm than good. Many commentators chastised the prime minister for publicly criticizing the foreign policy of President Barack Obama, a Democrat, and siding with his Republican opponents, jeopardizing the strong bipartisan support for Israel in the United States.
More than half of Israeli voters are telling pollsters that economic and social issues, particularly living costs, will be their top priorities when voting next Tuesday anyway. Only a fifth of the electorate lists relations with the Palestinians as their priority while 10 percent mentions the threat of a nuclear Iran.
Netanyahu has presided over years of high economic growth but Israel has also seen income gaps widen during his tenure.
Herzog told a Tel Aviv business conference on Wednesday that Likud‘s economy had “served just a few people and it is essential that in the next four years it serves the majority, that it gives hope and trickles down to the citizens.”
The Zionist Camp promises to raise education and health-care spending and expand affordable housing.
A report by Israel’s state comptroller revealed last month that the average house price rose 55 percent between 2008 and 2013. The number of houses built is not keeping up with demand, at least partially because more than 90 percent of the land is either owned or administered by the state, creating a lot of red tape.
Herzog promises to release more land to developers without charge if they agree to set aside part of it for cheap housing.
Naftali Bennett’s nationalist Jewish Home party is expected to become the third largest. It now governs in coalition with Likud but could potentially change sides if the Zionist Camp wins a plurality and compromises on security issues as well as the building of settlements in territory that is also claimed by the Palestinians.